Denton: Turk Smooth in Return; Ready for Playoffs

By John Denton
April 26, 2012

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Time and again Thursday night, Orlando Magic small forward Hedo Turkoglu stared into the eyes of a defender, ignored the dying shot clock that forced his hand and buried one step-back jump shot after another.

Despite having to wear a hard-plastic protective mask and playing for the first time in three weeks, Turkoglu looked as if he never missed a beat. Now, the hope is that the sweet-shooting Turkoglu can muster several similar efforts in the playoffs and give the undermanned Magic a ball-handling and shooting boost against the Indiana Pacers.

Finally back after missing three weeks following surgery to repair three fractures beneath his right eye, Turkoglu shot the ball well, appeared to be in good shape and even absorbed a hard hit with little trouble. He scored 18 points and hit four 3-pointers in 29 minutes of work in an 88-76 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in a game where the Magic didn’t play any of their other starters.

``I would say I was OK. Of course, I was a little winded in the beginning, but after that I started feeling a lot better,’’ Turkoglu said. ``I was feeling pretty good out there, but I was very uncomfortable in the mask. This was a good night, but you can’t really compare this to the game that’s coming (against Indiana). It will be a different atmosphere and there won’t be a lot of open shots in the playoffs.’’

The Magic will have a quick turnaround before playing Game 1 Saturday at 7 p.m. in Indianapolis. The team flew to Indiana right after the game on Thursday night and will hold a light workout today. Days after back-to-backs are normally time off for NBA players, but that’s not possible now with the lack of time between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.

``It’s a really quick turnaround and we don’t have much preparation time,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``You aren’t going to be able to go crazy in terms of adjustments for Game 1 because you just don’t have much time. We’ll have to look at everything and get prepared. We’ll play the schedule as it goes.’’

Game 2 will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Indianapolis. The series then shifts to Orlando’s Amway Center for Game 3 (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.).

Turkoglu’s strong performance left little doubt that he will return to the starting lineup on Saturday when the sixth-seeded Magic face the third-seeded Pacers in Indianapolis. The Magic have been starting shooting guards J.J. Redick and Jason Richardson on the wings, but they will welcome the return of Turkoglu’s size against Indiana’s Danny Granger (6-8) and Paul George (6-8).

``Turk had a good rhythm out there and it was good for him to get this game before the playoffs,’’ said Redick, one of six key Magic players who didn’t play. ``Defensively getting (Turkoglu) back gives us more size, especially at that position because we’re pretty undersized. And offensively he helps us because he’s a playmaker and another shooter.’’

Turkoglu hurried his return to the court because he was determined to get in some time on the court before the start of the playoffs. Under normal circumstances, Turkoglu would have needed six weeks before returning following surgery. But he got back on the court in less than three weeks time because he knew the importance of helping out a Magic team that is already without superstar center Dwight Howard.

After the game, Turkoglu had ice packs strapped to both knees and he wore special spandex pants that ease some of the swelling in the legs that comes with flying. He said that he planned to wear the protective mask at least a couple of more games, but couldn’t promise he would wear it throughout the playoffs.

``The feeling of wearing it is like pressure all over my face and then with the sweat and the straps in the back falling down, it bothers me,’’ Turkoglu said. ``I don’t like (the mask), but I don’t want to do anything stupid to put myself at risk or the team at risk.’’

Turkoglu, who entered the game shooting 41 percent from the floor this season, was an efficient seven of 13 on Thursday against Memphis’ Rudy Gay and defensive ace Tony Allen. Turkoglu’s first field goal was a deep 3-pointer under duress and he ended up making four of nine shots from beyond the arc.

Pretty impressive stuff from a player who just resumed conditioning and shooting work last week after enduring what he called ``the worst injury of my career.’’ After having surgery, Turkoglu’s face remained badly swollen and sore for almost two weeks. He also experienced lots of numbness on the right side of his face and had trouble sleeping at night.

Turkoglu was fitted for a protective mask earlier in the week, one that he will have to wear throughout the playoffs. Of course, Turkoglu’s teammates gave the good-natured small forward some ribbing about the looks of the mask. There were plenty of playful references to ``Silence of the Lambs’’ and ``Phantom of the Opera,’’ movies and plays where the main character wore a mask.

``We can’t understand Turk whether he’s wearing the mask or not wearing the mask,’’ team captain Jameer Nelson joked.

Turkoglu was tested in the second quarter when he received a hard hit to the head. After breaking away for a layup, Turkoglu was hit from behind by Memphis forward Dante Cunningham, who goal-tended the shot. Turkoglu took the brunt of the hit in the back of the head, but didn’t seem bothered by the hit. He simply re-adjusted his mask and kept on stroking jump shots.

Joked Turkoglu: ``I was kind of scared when Dante Cunningham tried to step on my face. Luckily, I was OK.’’

And lucky for a Magic team that is hoping to get a big lift from Turkoglu in the playoffs against the Pacers.

``I thought Turk shot the ball well and I thought he played pretty well,’’ Van Gundy said. ``He had some bad plays off the dribble, but he was playing with guys he hasn’t played with much. I thought it was a good night for him. He got good minutes, but we didn’t kill him (by playing him in the fourth quarter). He’s going to have to step up in the playoffs because we need him.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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